Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool
Manchester United Hernandez 46
Manchester United are through to the 3rd round of the Capital One Cup. That would hardly be cause for any particular celebration under Sir Alex Ferguson but for his successor it will produce one of the better nights of sleep he has had in recent weeks. Javier Hernandez’s simple goal seconds after the restart was enough to see them through, but the single goal did little to illustrate the relief it would have given to the Manchester United manager.
It is traditionally the most maligned of competitions but for both David Moyes and Brendan Rogers this game was more than the fixture list nuisance it used to be for Ferguson. For Moyes, a league cup win will certainly not be enough to sweep the ‘demolition derby’ under the carpet and the performance carried little of the authority with which United were dispatched by their city rivals. But it was a start.
Cup ties provide teams with the freedom to be adventurous and in truth there was little to choose between the two teams. It was an attractive, open game, with a cup-tie feel in the first half in particular with both sides frequently raiding their opponents with sharp passing and defending with robust, sometimes reckless challenges. Once the game had settled after half an hour, both teams played with the freedom that this competition allows and the result was Liverpool getting in behind Manchester United’s often timid-looking back four.
Within the first two minutes Manchester United played with the aggression that Moyes would have demanded and in that time the Scot had already left his seat and approached the pitch to bark instructions. It was telling that United played with an intensity in the first two minutes that was barely glimpsed at the Etihad on Saturday. Shinji Kagawa and Nani, both with points to prove, performed well. Kagawa in particular did much to suggest his manager needs to take a longer, harder look at him, spearheading United’s attack and providing Wayne Rooney with creative support.
The noise from the Old Trafford crowd was deafening. United’s supporters are often at their loudest when they know that their side need them as a pick-me-up and the volume was barely turned down for the entire game. They were encouraged by a ease of movement from United that was glaringly absent against City, as Liverpool saw fit to sit deep and soak up a good deal of pressure for which they would have been prepared.
For Rogers there was much to admire from his team’s performance but at the same time it was reminder that his side contains weaknesses that must be addressed. The ease with which Javier Hernandez escaped his marker to score the winner blotted what was for the most part a solid performance. Upon his return Luis Suarez was a threat throughout, displaying speed of movement and a predatory instinct.
The freedom with which Liverpool operated at times were a reminder of how easily Jesus Navas had raided United’s left flank at the Etihad. Suarez wasted little time in reminding Liverpool what they had been missing, and the rest of the league as to what they will once again have to deal with. The Uruguayan was inches away from poking the ball beyond David De Gea after Johnny Evans allowed a cross to sail over his head and had Daniel Sturridge directed one particular second-half header either side of De Gea, Liverpool would have been level. As it was it was fired directly at the Spanish goalkeeper. Suarez crashed the ball against the bar from the resulting free kick and at that stage, United looked vulnerable.
Considering the poise and patience with which Liverpool played in the first half Rogers would have been seething at the sloppiness with which his side conceded. From a corner Javier Hernandez, who barely threatened Liverpool in the first half, was allowed to escape his marker and guide the ball past Mignolet from 5 yards without a Liverpool player close enough to touch him. The relief on Moyes’s face was evident as he approached the tunnel at the end, the fist pump defiant. Don’t count me out yet, it said.